I have a randomly vivid memory of once working on a small but satisfying project and, when I got caught at it, I shrugged, “I had fun,” which brief and dismissive adjective does not begin to capture the thrill of it.
This came to mind recently when I was speaking with a learned friend who had just stayed up all night working on a composition in a somewhat obscure corner of Torah which she then mailed to the world expert in that subject; and as my jaw was dropping on the other end of the phone, she dismissed the evening as, “I had fun.”
And I began to think that there was an essay in the making here when another teacher recently described his aspiration in life and concluded, in the tones that schoolgirls use for giggles, “It'd be fun!”
The word “fun” exists to describe superficial pleasure, the sort of thing that you like even when you are too old to esteem it as deeply important. “Fun” is what fun parks are for. “Fun” is the aesthetic that has replaced “beautiful”: e.g., 1920's-styled shoes are beautiful but bright aqua 1920's-styled shoes are both beautiful and fun. I like fun but the feeling that you are doing what you were put on this planet to do is quite another thing.
In Hebrew there are oneg and taanug, which are related forms of pleasure, and there are other adjectives for the sort of pleasure that one gets from bright aqua shoes, and there are ten different kinds of happiness (gila, rina, ditza, chedva, simcha, sason... I actually know a family who went down a list like this to name their daughters) but there is no direct translation of “fun” – no word so bland that it can be flung about to mean anything from “cute” to “reckless”. Hebrew-speakers who need to use an all-purpose word like “fun” have to borrow the word kef from Arabic.
I'm beginning to wish that the word didn't exist in English either. People hide behind it when they are feeling emotional about something and are disinclined to express how strongly they feel about it.
Last night I asked a young veteran what it's like to be shot at –which is, to be sure, an invasive question; but he brought it up-- and he said, “It's not fun,” and with that I had to be content.
I propose that we all take the trouble to fish about for a better adjective when we are caught red-handed having emotions.